Until this afternoon, all we really knew about Joe Wright's new film 'Hanna' is that it stars the suddenly precocious Saoirse Ronan as a teenage assassin. That was enough to get us interested, but the wealth of details that Wright, Ronan, and co-star Eric Bana revealed to the New York Comic-Con crowd this afternoon -- in addition to the two brief clips they brought in tow -- have us somewhat convinced that 'Hanna' is going to be one of the spring's most exciting movies when Focus Features release it on April 8, 2011. So here's what we know now:
1. 'Hanna' is 'Leon' meets 'The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser.'
Eric Bana might tell you otherwise, but the whole "cute girl who happens to be a deadly trained killer" thing is familiar stuff. From 'Leon' to 'Kick-Ass' to a whole sub-genre of anime titles like 'Gunslinger Girl' and 'Kite,' it can feel like every little girl in a movie these days is likely to be concealing an automatic weapon of some kind (this perspective has really tarnished the experience of watching 'A Little Princess').
But Joe Wright is a serious filmmaker (he may have gone a little Joe Wrong* with 'The Soloist,' but all of his films -- especially 'Atonement' -- are undeniably the work of a filmmaker possessed with a consideration and curiosity for his craft), and one gets the sense he wouldn't have accepted stewardship of 'Hanna' if there weren't a bit more to its story. And then, at the panel, he busted out that Kaspar Hauser reference, revealing that Hanna isn't just a little girl with a deadly set of talents, but that she's been raised beyond the limits of society and knows nothing of the world at large (as a kid, she had two books: an encyclopedia and a copy of 'Grimm's Fairy Tales'). Or as Saoirse Ronan described her...
2. Hanna is a freak.
Ronan -- now 16 and eerily similar to a young, less psychotic version of Anne Heche (if you squint, maybe?) -- described the eponymous killer she plays as "a girl with a really simple mindset, really. She's been brought up in the wild and she's only been with one person, her father. Her yearning is quite simple, she wants to experience the world and meet different types of people and see the world and I can sympathize with her because i feel the same way myself. But also she's quit still and really calm, and she kills someone ... she's a bit of a freak. But i like that. I like freaks."
3. When Hanna freaks out, people die.
And she wasn't kidding. One of the clips we saw depicted what's presumably Hanna's first-ever interaction with a person other than her father. Hanna's father has sent her into the world on her first mission -- to be deliberately captured by C.I.A. agent Marissa Wiegler (Cate Blanchett) so that Hanna will be able to kill her. The clip began with a kooky-eyed interrogator staring directly into the camera (which played like a nod to Luc Besson), and proving once again that you never want to be a nameless interrogator in the early part of an action film. Because you're either going to be horribly killed, or you're going to be beaten severely and then horribly killed. We cut to Hanna, all feral and wavy-haired and totally clueless. Wright restlessly (but rhythmically) cuts around the interrogation room as Hanna gains her bearings -- the precise and ominous edits have a vaguely Kubrickian air about them and occasionally the screen splits into four quadrants.
Hanna demands to see Wiegler, but an imposter in a Blanchett wig enters the room, instead. Fake Wiegler asks if Hanna knows where her father is because "Everyone is worried about him," and Hanna returns the woman's question with a warm and instinctual hug. The real Wiegler -- watching the scene over CCTV -- senses that something is amiss and orders some lackeys to stick Hanna with a tranquilizer dart. Hanna intuits the danger without even a wisp of emotion, snaps the imposter's neck (apparently her training involved watching a lot of old Steven Seagal films), grabs her gun, and murders everyone in the room without breaking a sweat. The frame is steadied on her quiet, blood-flecked face, and the sequence ends with Hanna firing directly into the frame. It's a choppy sequence, but ...
4. 'Hanna' is what 'Children of Men' might look like as an action movie.
Wright is famous for his long and immaculately choreographed tracking shots, and it seems as if he's wanted to try his hand at action filmmaking ever since he saw 'Oldboy's' incredible hallway fight scene. The director made it sound as if the film is absolutely littered with action sequences, most of which are shot in long, uninterrupted takes (he cited a scene in which Bana's character decimates four special ops agents as a personal favorite). Bana complained about how the choppy, Paul Greengrass style of shooting and editing action can frustratingly negate months of intricate choreography, but when Wright went and hired the steadicam operator from Aleksandr Sokurov's 'Russian Ark' (a 99-minute film entirely contained within a single take), there was no mistaking his intentions for 'Hanna.'
5. 'Hanna' is one cold film.
Hanna is cold, but Finland is colder. Hanna's father raises her in the frozen outskirts of Finland (because as far as Hollywood is concerned, hiding from evil C.I.A. agents is pretty much what Finland is there for), and the frozen outskirts of Finland are, well ... they're frozen. Like -35 degrees Celsius, frozen. Which apparently is the temperature at which a production is able to insure an action sequence shot on a frozen lake, because under those conditions the actors are much more likely to crack than the ice below them. The scene in question is a training sequence between Hanna and her father, and Ronan was every bit as feisty and ready to brawl as Bana was uncomfortable with faux-fighting a 16-year-old girl. But Bana's reluctance was denying the scene the raw energy Wright required of it, so the director told the Australian Hulk to "Forget that she's 16, and just smash her into the ice." Which he did.
6. Cate Blanchett is a pretty good actress.
Oh, some of you probably already knew this (and by "some of you" we mean "anyone who has ever seen Cate Blanchett in anything because wow she is so totally the best"). Earlier this year I saw her as Blanche Dubois in a staging of 'A Streetcar Named Desire,' and she was so incredible that I wished her performance had been preserved on film. With 'Hanna,' my wish has kind of been granted. The accent she adopts to play a C.I.A. agent here is almost identical to that of her Blanche Dubois, but Blanche never jumped out of a skyscraper window (at least not in the stage version). The panel's audience was treated to a clip in which Agent Wiegler fields a phone call from Hanna's father. A knock on the door -- room service? Wiegler's aid puts his eye to the peephole and a bullet explodes through the wood, killing him instantly. It's Hanna's father -- apparently it was a local call. By the time he enters the room, Wiegler has already escaped from the tower's window. The scene was inscrutable without more context, but even in this brief sequence it was clear that Blanchett brought a heft and pathos to her villain that's difficult to find in recent action movies.
7. Daft Punk is not playing at this house.
'Tron: Legacy' may have Daft Punk, but 'Hanna' has The Chemical Brothers. The music wasn't ready in time for the panel, but Joe Wright asked the electronic duo -- long-time friends of his -- to score the entire film and they obliged. Wright didn't give too many clues as to what the music sounds like, but he promised that it's genuinely cinematic and positively littered with heavy bass. No word on whether or not Aphex Twin is scoring 'Yogi Bear.'
* Sorry, everyone.